Disclaimer: My initials are not JKR. Unfortunately.

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Part One: Failure

It didn't turn out the way you wanted it, did it?

We long for what we cannot have.

Harry remembers being fourteen and stupid, and the look on Ron's face as he said: I'll let you get on with practising for your next interview in peace. He remembers names, places, faces and through it all the undercurrent of Famous Harry Potter.

In his dreams he is groping in the darkness for anonymity (or death, he doesn't know the difference anymore) but bright stage lights snap on and there is Dumbledore's voice, pure and strong saying: you're their hero, Harry. They need you. He feels like a naughty child, caught with his fingers in the candy jar.

The candy jar is swept away in wave after wave of questions and interviews (and faces, so many faces), just like Harry Potter was scrubbed clean of all realism and dressed in brightly coloured silks, designed to disguise. Dumbledore created an idol and the Boy Who Lived is the result: can't even go into a bookshop without making the front page. He is questioned so often, so many "exclusive interviews" but there is never any truth.

Truth?

(He wakes up every morning with wand in hand, thinking today's the day – I woke up dead this morning… but no matter how many times he cries the words (Avada Kedavra!) there is nothing but his ragged breathing and tears that he refuses to let fall. Trelawney's prophecy rings true: so that means one of us has got to kill the other…in the end?)

Truth?

(He doesn't speak to Ron anymore, even though Fred (& his name sound strange without "George" tacked to the end – incomplete) tells him every time they meet that Ron needs someone to talk to. Tells him that Ron is empty: sitting in a London apartment building, eyes blank like Parvati's when the Dementors sucked the life from her.)

Truth is nothing but a nightmare, litany of deaths and injuries read out in clinical fashion.

He visits Hermione's grave on the ten-year anniversary.

Late at night, so that the reporters and oh-isn't-it-tragic-and-look-there-He-is! won't follow him like shadows. The cemetery is cold and the tombstones are like icebergs, and he can feel death around him. He can feel:

That night nineteen years ago (blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe).

The nightmares are never far away.

Nightmare: Jets of green shooting out at all angles, catching Tonks, McGonagall, Lupin…so many.

Nightmare: Finding his wand gone, nothing left for him to do.

Nightmare: Pitiless, red eyes leaving no doubt that he would die and -

Truth?

- He doesn't even know how he did it.

Snape's voice was accusing when they met afterwards (Harry had never been a good Occlumens) and he said: This was not your doing. Famous Harry Potter, saviour of the Wizarding World, and none of it is yours.

Harry (locked deep beneath the facade of The Boy Who Lived) knows that he is right. He wants to shout it out, scream that he's a fake but -

This game has rules and you are obligated to play within them.

Truth?

We create our heroes and they can do nothing but stand (silent & supreme) while we heap adulations upon them.

- instead he simply bites his lip and turns away. He says nothing to Hermione. He can't.


Part Two: Marks

Idols are not meant to be touched; their gilt comes off in our hands.

Harry thinks he's falling apart.

It isn't as obvious as Ron (who says nothing, does nothing, is nothing) but there are times (brief, awkward moments) when a dozen faces turn to him expectantly and he has no idea why. There are times when he remembers something he never experienced in the first place.

Truth?

Some of those memories are like deja vu - he feels like he's missing something important. The picture is similar (brushwork reminds him of his own) but the view is slightly skewed and everything is darker.

And some days there is the strange feeling that his head is splitting at his scar, lying as a constant reminder as to why Harry Potter isn't just that anymore. There were days (there are still days) when he clawed at his forehead, trying desperately to remove the mark, to cut it out of his skin. Just to sever the part they all wanted (the bit that made him Someone Else) and hand it to Rita Skeeter and say: This is the Boy Who Lived. Interview this.

But Harry Potter is nothing but marks, from The Scar, to reminders of his Quidditch days, to the thin white lines on his wrists where he tried to end it once and for all.

And perhaps most significantly, to the spiky words on the back of his right hand: I must not tell lies. And what is The Boy Who Lived but a lie, cleverly crafted and moulded from the ashes of Harry Potter? Some days, Harry thinks that The Boy Who Lived A Lie is a more accurate name, but then -

memories of conversations with Dumbledore echo in his mind

prophecies and predictions reverberate

the accusing eyes of those who died remind him that he can't just back away

- he smiles, tells himself that he is fine and falls deeper into the rivers of denial.


Part Three: Apprehension

Evil cannot be destroyed, merely transformed (like energy).

His Parseltongue abilities vanished when Voldemort died. It was like a connection split and withered (and his Scar is just a slightly raised line on his skin now, a media magnet) and died. It was one of the few things Harry was thankful for.

Which is why the first real sign that something is seriously wrong comes when a common garden snake tells Harry to move out of the way, and he understands it.

The snake cannot understand his shock and mutters something about all humans being blithering idiots, before slithering out of sight. Harry stumbles backwards and clutches his Scar. It explodes with pain.

Truth?

This is not meant to happen. Snape told him it wouldn't, told him his Scar was dead (just like Voldemort).

And if one is alive, then -

Nightmare: He cannot remember what he did, because he did nothing.

Nightmare: This, all of this, is just an interval (a twenty year ceasefire) because Harry Potter couldn't finish the job properly.

He wakes up and it is night. The pain is gone as if it had never existed in the first place (and is this just another one of those moments, another sign that he is losing control?) and he feels a little better. Because if he must play within the rules, then surely Voldemort must too. And villains don't come back a third time.

(What Harry doesn't know is that the rules break like brittle bones when the characters break the fourth wall.)


Part Four: Return

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

Truth?

Harry discovers it soon enough.

Dreams drove him back to Hogwarts and he stalks through the ruined castle, memories of the seven years he spent there assaulting him like curse-fire. The silence speaks of death and destruction – even the ghosts have abandoned the halls.

He avoids looking into the Great Hall (seventy students murdered at breakfast), stays away from the dungeons as though it were plague. He knows that not all the bodies were cleared from there.

Truth?

This place is a tomb.

There is only one reason Harry is here and that is –

'According to legend, Salazar Slytherin built a Chamber before he left the school.'

'We're in the Chamber of Secrets! We can talk later!'

- to find out the truth behind the nightmares (and the memories that are not his and the Parseltongue he shouldn't be speaking and the strange inconsistencies that can't be explained away).

The bathroom is mouldy and damp, but the sinks are still intact (and he's transported back to when he was twelve years old, still believing that he could save the world with a sidekick and a bit of luck), to Harry's relief. Once again, the Parseltongue he thought had deserted him bubbles up from within and passes over his lips like thick, rich poison.

And before he knows it, Harry is back inside the Chamber of Secrets.

Truth?

He doesn't even know what he wants to find here.

Truth?

But he certainly wasn't expecting –

'Hello, Harry.'

- this.


Part Five: Realisation

Eventually everything comes full circle and the things we think we've avoided come back to haunt us.

At first, Harry thinks that he's seeing himself. The figure is shadowed, face cloaked in darkness, but the similarities are still startling. It isn't until Tom steps forward, a slight smile playing on his lips, that Harry sees him for who he really is.

'This…this isn't real. It can't be – you're dead, you – ' Harry splutters, a mixture of confusion and fear rendering him incoherent. Tom's smile grows wider, like the Cheshire Cat, but still he says nothing. His footsteps echo through the Chamber as he strides towards Harry.

Harry pulls his wand out with shaking fingers and points it at the teenage-Voldemort. 'Stay back! Stay away from me!' he cries, trying to inject some bravery into his voice.

'Come now, Harry,' Tom says and his voice is like velvet (so different from the high, cold tone Harry remembers). 'I thought you wanted answers, isn't that why you're here?'

Truth?

He was right. Harry hesitates, wand lowering a fraction, and Tom laughs mockingly at his indecision. It is this mockery, perhaps, that galvanises Harry.

'You're dead. You've been dead for ten years – what the fucking hell is going on here?'

Tom doesn't answer him immediately, preferring simply to walk closer to Harry, watching him intently. And then suddenly –

Voldemort's actions always did take them by surprise.

- Tom has leant in and twisted with lightning speed, and Harry's wand disappears and reappears in Tom's grasp. Harry cries out and lunges towards the teenager in fury, but Tom flicks his (Harry's) wand casually and The Boy Who Lived is thrown against one of the huge pillars in the Chamber. Gasping, he scrambles to his feet and glares daggers at Riddle.

Tom isn't smiling anymore, but his tone is still light and pleasant when he finally answers. 'Did you really think you could kill me, Harry? Were you so sure of yourself, so wrapped up in your own legend, that you thought you could finish me?'

He is close enough now that their faces are barely a foot apart. 'You were, weren't you,' he says, and it isn't a question. 'You believed that you would win because they said it was what you were born to do.' Riddle laughs derisively. 'And only now, ten years later, do you have any inklings of doubt.'

Harry flinches, because Voldemort is laying the truth out in brutal fashion and it makes him look like a naïve fool.

Nightmare: that he'd live to see the day where Voldemort was right.

'Harry, Harry, Harry,' Tom says condescendingly. 'Did you really believe the Prophet's sensationalism?' Harry doesn't answer, wary eyes flicking between Tom's eyes and his wand, ready to duck should Riddle try to curse him. But duelling doesn't seem to be foremost in Riddle's mind. 'I asked you a question,' he says coldly, and there are razors beneath the velvet now.

Harry calculates and makes the same decision as he did when he was twelve – keep Riddle talking. 'In part, I suppose I did. Now it's nothing but lies,' he says candidly, because Voldemort knows the difference between truth and lies. And now he feels bold enough for a question of his own. 'Is that what happened to you? Did you believe that you were destined to have some kind of happy ending?'

Tom laughs once more, but it is more bitter than mocking. 'Happy ending? There are no happy endings, just stories that are hurriedly cut off before the next disaster can occur.'

Truth?

This has been a ten-year ceasefire, but the next wave of violence is rising around you.


Part Six: Epilogues

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The ending to this story is surprisingly anti-climactic, but then again, it is not a true ending – just the cutting of a thread that could trail forever.

Harry doesn't even see Tom raise the wand.

Surprisingly, though, it is not to cry Avada Kedavra. Harry slumps gracelessly to the ground, stunned.

He wakes within a few hours, but it is not Harry who opens his eyes.

Truth?

Harry came searching for answers and he found them – and then some.

Tomorrow morning, the remaining Death Eaters will be frightened out of their wits by a burning on their left forearms. Those who are brave enough to return will meet a man they never wanted to see again (a memory, preserved within a diary for fifty years). The day after that, Ron will die alone of a heart attack in his London flat. And after that –

The complications spiral outwards, endless patterns of epilogues and postscripts, neverending sequels.

- the mirror shows a lightning-shaped scar on Tom's forehead.

FIN


The first line of Part One is from The Wretched, by NIN.

The first line of Part Two is from Madame Bovary by Flaubert.

The first line of Part Four is Italian for "abandon all hope, ye who enter here" and is from the Divine Comedy.

Twenty-year ceasefire is a quote from Marshal Foch, who was describing the state of affairs after the Treaty of Versailles. Ten-year ceasefire is obviously based off this.

There are also a few quotes from the Harry Potter series, which I borrow with the utmost respect for JKR. They might be a bit mangled, because I wrote this without the use of my HP books.